'Worlds Greatest Fan' will travel with state champions
By GERRY STEELE
Of the Baker City Herald
Its rare to watch a Baker City youth athletic event these days where you dont see Ray Maher mingling with the youngsters, talking to their parents, and enjoying every minute of the game.
What makes the experience even more special for Maher, his wife Darlene, and those individuals he comes in contact with is the knowledge that Maher is giving of himself despite severe medical problems.
You see, Maher has been battling cancer for the past several years. He has his good days and his bad days. He has stints when he has to make short stays in the hospital. But he perseveres.
Some days the cancer appears to be winning. Thats when the friendships Maher has forged with each of the youngsters from Little League age on up through high school and American Legion age and many adults as well come into play.
Thats why Maher has been there every day with the Baker senior softball all-stars as they have made their trek through the district and state tournaments. And, he plans to stay with them when they travel to Great Falls, Mont., this weekend for the Division I tournament.
Im going to go with them, he said. Ive been with them all year, and Im not going to quit now.
Maher said some days are worse than others, but that being with the kids is his therapy.
Im hanging in there, he said. You can feel just as tough sitting at home as you do out doing stuff. So, I might as well be out doing things.
The kids are everything, Maher said. Down at Portland (at the state tournament) I got a million hugs.
Dale Curtis, Baker manager, said the Baker team also gave Maher a special present in Portland.
They got an all-star shirt just like the ones they wore and had We love our greatest fan put on the back, Curtis said. Then they all autographed it and gave it to Ray before the last game.
Kathy Taylor, Baker coach, said the state tournament officials also took special care of Maher.
They gave him his own shirt and medal with the team, she said.
The tournament officials said it was too bad other teams didnt have fans like him, echoed Joyce Curtis. They also took care of him in the stands, brought him drinks, etc.
Baker players, young and old, always have something positive to say to Maher. And he always has time for the kids.
Maher has taken the Baker all-stars under his wing. And they, in turn, have formed a special bond with him. In fact, the team has dedicated the entire all-star season to Maher.
Hes our guardian angel, said Dale Curtis.
Ray lives his baseball life through us, said pitcher Amanda Moutsanides.
Hes more like our best friend. He can watch us and tell us what were doing wrong and how to correct it.
Hes taught us a lot, added outfielder Mogan Shira. Not just in softball, but about a lot of things.
He has the highest expectations for us, said catcher Erin Brookshire. Its nice when someone believes in you that much.
Rays determination is what I admire most, said Joyce Curtis, Dales wife and president of the Baker Little League softball program.
Hes an inspiration every day. He perseveres every day.
Maher keeps a watchful eye over all of the young men and women on the Baker teams. He says this group of all-stars is special to him.
As they go through life, not just in sports, they have proved that when the going gets tough they get tough, Maher said.
An athlete needs to be a good business person. When they lose they dont quit. Thats what I like about these girls; I like the way they stick with it, he said.
This is a group of girls that no matter what they try in life theyll succeed, whether its in business, the classroom or on the playing field.
Theyre an awesome bunch of kids, Maher said. They have fun. They relax on the field.
Maher said he feeds off the strengths of the young Baker players.
The kids say its your support that keeps us going, he said. Their support keeps me going too.
Heres hoping its a love affair that continues for a long time.
There will never be another one like Ray, Dale Curtis said, summing up the feelings of all of his players and coaches.